How to figure this one, Super Bowl XLVI, between the New England Patriots, who haven’t lost in 11 games, and the New York Giants, who in November were the last team to beat the Patriots, if only by a 24-20 score?
It’s between a Patriots defense, which wasn’t very intimidating, and a Giants rushing offense, which has come up small.
It’s between Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who didn’t throw a touchdown pass in the AFC Championship Game, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who didn’t throw an interception in the NFC Championship Game.
The oddsmakers have posted the Patriots as a three-point favorite, the smallest Super Bowl spread since the 49ers were favored by one over Cincinnati in XVI.
The Patriots are favored because of Brady, who has quarterbacked three Super Bowl wins and needs one more to equal his boyhood idol, Joe Montana.
But four years ago, Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots were 12-point picks over the Giants, and Brady had his one Super Bowl loss, 17-14 at the hands of New York.
“I remember waking up the next morning after an hour’s sleep,” Brady said, “thinking that it was a nightmare, that it didn’t happen.”
It happened, and it might very well happen again. The Giants shouldn’t be here. They were 7-7 with two games left on the regular-season schedule. They were a wild card. They were underdogs against the once-beaten Packers in Green Bay. They were underdogs against the 49ers at Candlestick Park. But they are here.
Here and dangerous, with a defensive line which causes havoc.
“They put a lot of pressure on you with that front four,” Brady said.
The Giants also have enough offense to move the ball when needed, as they did against the Niners in the NFC Championship Game.
“There are not many teams,” said running back Brandon Jacobs, referring to the Giants’ four-game losing streak, “that have a chance to do something special after going through such turmoil like we went through.”
Those seeking angles depict this as a revenge game for the Patriots, revenge for the Super Bowl four years ago, revenge for the loss two months ago. Those playing disagree.
“We want it just as bad as they do,” said Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants. “We don’t see revenge. We just see playing hard and winning.”
Or playing hard and losing. Nobody’s going to back off. Somebody might get pushed away. Power against power.
“It seems they always have guys who can rush the quarterback,” said Brady of the Giants. “They have a ton of depth. You can’t hold the ball all day. You better find someone and get rid of it.”
What the Super Bowl has found is an intriguing matchup between the teams playing the best at the end of the season, a rematch — if separated by four years — of a game both compelling and, with the Giants’ upset, surprising.
“There aren’t many people who played in the last game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “This team is this team.
“The elements of this game are what we have in front of us, not what happened two months ago or two years ago or four years ago.”
And those elements, Brady and Manning, Belichick and Giants coach Tom Coughlin, make this game both interesting and difficult to predict.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.